Grasmere Gingerbread: Another Romantic Notion?

30 Nov
by Deanne

As a child Sarah Kemp knew poverty, and her widowed mother was only too thankful to get her daughter into service with the local gentry. But Sarah was a diligent young woman and she soon reached the height of her profession as a cook.

In 1844 she married Wilfred Nelson of Morland near Penrith, but marriage didn’t solve any problems for Sarah. Wilfred worked as a farm labourer and part-time grave digger, but he was unable to earn enough to support his wife and two children. Sarah worked hard taking in washing and making cakes and pastries for Lady Farquhar, in her home at Dale Lodge in Grasmere.*

When traveling I collect more stories than trinkets. I found the above story on our last day in the dreamy and romantic Lake District. We went to Grasmere, which is probably most known as the home of the William Wordsworth. He is a poet famous for launching what is considered to be the romantic age of English literature. We walked around St. Oswald’s Church, the churchyard of which contains the Wordsworth family graves.Logo for Grasmere Gingerbread

Unexpectedly, just around the corner I became enchanted by a little shop now called Grasmere Gingerbread Shop.* There I collected the story of Sarah Nelson who had a typically hard life in service as a domestic.  (If you are a Downtown Abbey fan, think of the life of Daisy who was in service about a century later than Sarah.)

Sarah won the appreciation of Victorian tourists when she stepped out and established herself as a baker and confectioner in a former school building. Her secret recipe for gingerbread was locked away and sold to another generation. Image from website of Sarah's Kitchen

Being in this space, it was easy to imagine Sarah, in her white apron, sitting outside to sell her treats to the passing tourists in the mid to late 1800’s.

If you are curious to know more you can check out this video and learn how sugar and spice, imports from far off lands came to Grasmere during Sarah’s lifetime and shaped her work.

Do you think I am romanticizing England and small business?  Probably, but I tend to be a dreamer and on vacation in what appeared to be an idyllic setting. 

Back at my computer, when I prepared to write this post I had a reality check about how business can go wrong.  No this doesn’t mean I am against business. However, I am realistic about how we humans can get attached to being right and forget the other important virtues like fair-mindedness. If you want to understand what I mean, check out this article I found about a man who also tried to sell Grasmere Gingerbread.

What about you, have you ever heard of Grasmere’s Gingerbread Wars?  (This a post I found that helped me understand the context for the sad article posted above.)

Watch for our next post to find out what this silly American learned about Yorkshire Tea.

*The graphics and quotes in this post are linked to their source at Grasmere Gingerbread Shop’s website.

One Response to “Grasmere Gingerbread: Another Romantic Notion?”

  1. Corrine November 30, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    Really love your stories… so interesting! and I always learn new things.

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